The young New Zealand sprint cycling team have a target on their backs but they are ready and waiting for tomorrow’s showdown on the first day of the UCI track world championships near Paris.
The trio of Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins will defend their team sprint rainbow jerseys tomorrow in the new velodrome at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines on the outskirts of Paris.
The trio is in better shape than at last year’s world championships with sprint coach Anthony Peden impressed with their preparation.
“The work is done. The form is there. Team morale is good. I am not talking just the team sprint. The whole sprint group morale is good,” Peden said.
“We are ahead of where we were going into last year’s championships. There’s no denying that. The data tells us that. The boys are in PB condition as expected and as planned and programmed for us to be there.
“We are the hunted. They know that. There’s a big target on the backs and the rest of the world want that jersey back, but we are ready.”
Peden said the whole sprint programme was honoured when he was named coach of the year at last week’s Halberg Awards.
“My philosophy is there is no-one more important than anyone else in the team. I couldn’t be awarded this without the rest of the team and the staff and I hope that they enjoy this award just as much as I am.
“I do think it was deserved with what the boys have achieved and us as a team and programme this year is phenomenal and to be recognised is a huge honour and privilege and just fantastic.”
Mitchell, Webster and Dawkins will ride in the team sprint tomorrow, with one hour between the qualifying before the top four ride for the medals.
“We have not nailed a qualifying ride all season. We must execute the first ride. It is our final and then we can lift again.”
Peden is also delighted with the form of Matt Archibald and Simon van Velthooven, who set two personal bests this week in preparation for the 1000m time trial at the weekend, where Peden believes both could figure in the chase for medals.
“I am also really pleased with the development of Steph McKenzie and Katie Schofield and they are set to produce their best this week.
“The field this year is the strongest ever. Execution on the night is what is going to decide – who can execute, who can handle the pressure, who can perform.
“I have not seen anyone from any nation going any faster than we are. It is up to the boys to lay it down. I am quietly confident we are in the best shape we have ever been in.”
There’s a youthful look to the men’s team pursuit with Dylan Kennett 20, Pieter Bulling and newcomer Alex Frame both 21, anchored by double Olympic medallist Marc Ryan, while Aaron Gate will focus on the omnium instead.
The proven quartet of Rushlee Buchanan, Lauren Ellis, Georgia Williams and Jaime Nielsen will contest the women’s team pursuit, with the top eight in qualifying tomorrow both going through to the second day’s competition.
CAPTION: The New Zealand men’s sprint team will defend their world championship title in the team sprint on the opening day in Paris tomorrow.
Photo courtesy: Guy Swarbrick.
NOTE: The championships will be broadcast live on Sky Sport.